de Vries, Maggie. Missing Sarah: A Vancouver Woman remembers her vanished sister. 2003. Penguin. Canada.

Maggie de Vries is a writer and teacher; she is also pretty and blonde. She and her beautiful sister, Sarah, grew up in a loving family. But Sarah was a woman of colour and was harassed and tormented as she grew up in our bigoted society. She was murdered in 1998 after a short and often brutal life without developing her special writing talent.

It is the circumstances of Sarah’s death which finally shocked Canadians and made her a public figure after she vanished. Sarah had become a sex worker and an addict, following her trade on the streets of Vancouver, living, sometimes happy and sometimes sad, in a community of sex workers who watched in horror as Sarah and other disappeared.

Initially the police were not interested – a woman can leave, go where they want, why suspect foul play…she is only a prostitute. That was the response until more and more families complained and went public – too many women had vanished. Finally the police responded; the trail of disappearances led to a pig farm outside Vancouver. DNA tests confirmed remains of many women, including Sarah. The count is over fifty now. How many would still be alive if police had acted as swiftly as if they were sports stars or businessmen?

Maggie de Vries tells a story of broken dreams, love, perseverance, pain and violence. Maggie kept in touch with Sarah, helped care for her daughter and never gave up on Sarah, in life or in death. After the appalling truth was revealed and the deaths were discovered, Maggie needed to tell this story. Sarah deserves to be known and remembered as a bright, loving and talented woman, loved and mourned by many.

Last summer I visited the memorial to the Montreal women, murdered in 1989, in front of Vancouver’s bus/ train depot. While I walked the circle of benches and read the donor names on the bricks, some people asked what I was doing. I stopped to explain. They asked: Why not a memorial to the women of the pig farm? There is a brick in the circle that reads: “ In memory of the women of Vancouver’s Eastside. We dream of another world when the war on women is over ”.

Maggie describes the ceremony of the placing of a bench in a park nearby in memory of Sarah and others. One day something of Sarah’s will be buried in her family’s grave in Ontario. But this story must not be buried, we need to create a social and public memorial to these women and all the women who today end up without hope or recognition in the dark canyons of our unspoken cruelty and prejudice. We must confront our own dark chasms and work for justice and safety for our marginalized sisters. It is our responsibility to end the war on women at home and everywhere.

Filed under Book Reviews, Maggie de Vries